November 4, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I like cabbage.

I don’t love cabbage, but I like it. I like cabbage coleslaw. I don’t like the sour, vinegar-type slaw. I like the sweet, creamy variety, and don’t get me started about the deviants who add tarragon or some other horror into their bastardized versions of slaw. Oh, and by the way, “broccoli slaw” is not slaw. Don’t try to sell me that. But I digress…I like ham hock soup with cabbage. I like corned beef and cabbage. But let me be clear, as an ethnic German, I am a bit ashamed to admit, I hate sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is made by, basically, letting cabbage rot. I know, they say it’s fermenting. Fermenting as in sitting around while bacteria starts to feed on the cabbage and break it down into ghastly sour clumps of…well I say it’s just plain rot. Koreans do the same thing. They take cabbage and put it in a clay pot with peppers and garlic and then bury the pots in the backyard for a year. After they dig it up, they call it kim chee. I like kim chee. It’s spicy. But German kraut? No, it’s just unpleasant rot.

In fact, I dislike kraut so much it made me question my heritage. I started to wonder if my parents had lied to me. Was I a foundling?

So, like any other American who has deep psychological doubts about the way his parents raised him and the various bits of domestic, Dr. Spock-inspired trauma I was subjected to by my doting parents, I spit into a vial.

Yes, in search of answers, I spit into a vial. Then I put my spit into a plastic pouch and mailed it to Utah. I think. It might have been Idaho, or even Nevada, but whatever. I put the spit into the plastic, and the plastic into the little cardboard box, and I mailed it in. Ancestry-dot-com was where my truth would be found.

Apparently, my encapsulated saliva made it where it was supposed to go. I knew that because there was no slightly damp box returned to my mailbox over the next few months. Nothing came back. It was a long wait. Not like when I was a kid and I clipped the coupon on the back of the Sugar Pops cereal box and mailed it in, and then two short weeks later I got a four-inch-long submarine that I loaded with baking soda and watched it sink and surface in my Saturday night bathwater. Eventually the submarine that I had christened the USS Nixon disappeared into the murky depths of the guest bathroom when my brother T.J. pulled the flush lever. So many submariners were lost on that dark day.

But now, there was no news about my bit of drool. Was it lost in Utah?  No one knew. And I still hated sauerkraut. Sometimes at night I couldn’t sleep, wondering if I was Italian. I know, I don’t look Italian. But I love pasta. Maybe I was Russian, a Slav. I do like beets. Or maybe I was Circassian. I didn’t know much about them, but I know Dr. Oz is Circassian, so why not?

Finally, I got a letter in the mailbox. The DNA experts at Ancestry-dot-com were going to reveal all. It was kind of like being on “Maury Povich,” without the semi-rabid, slack-jawed audience. “And your ancestors are…”

I tore open the envelope. There, inside, was a short note and a map. And on the map was a big circle. The black marker was dead-center on Germany. No Circassia, no exotic genes from the diaspora. No Inuit blood or Icelandic Viking ancestors. Just one circle. One. No mark over Korea despite my love of kim chee. Just one big circle around Germany.

Ancestry-dot-com is obviously a scam. I will never spit into a vial again as long as I live.

Me? German? Impossible.

I hate sauerkraut.


Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This column was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.